Clerical Narcissism: Myth or Mess?


“Narcissist” is the new n-word. Unmatched for versatility, it can mean everything from “won’t text me back” to “queer as a three-dollar bill.” Once upon a time, disagreeable people could hope to be labeled neurotics or paranoiacs; no longer. Members of my generation are fully committed to watching each other watch themselves.

Just recently, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny deployed the term against the Vatican. Referring to a letter from the Holy See to the bishop of Cloyne, purportedly relieving him of the obligation to inform police of sex abuse allegations made against priests, Kenny thundered against the “dysfunction, disconnection, elitism and the narcissism that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.”

On one level, Kenny’s meaning is perfectly obvious. The Vatican, by his lights, was determined to protect its own interests at society’s expense. That kind of narcissism is the narcissism of Goldman Sachs, Union Carbide and the Nixon administration.

But coupled with the word “elitism,“ it seems to hint at something more serious. Russell Shaw spells it out fully when he defines “clericalism” as “an elitist mindset, together with structures and patterns of behavior corresponding to it, which takes it for granted that clerics—in the Catholic context, mainly bishops and priests—are intrinsically superior to the other members of the Church and deserve automatic deference.”

To me, anyway, the conviction that some people simply count more than others would seem a much profounder kind of narcissism. At some point during his adventures, Huck Finn invents a story about riverboating accident. When his audience, a kindhearted and credulous woman, asks whether anyone was hurt, he answers, “No’m. Killed a nigger.” That’s about as stark — and in a grim way, as funny — a portrayal of the mentality as you’ll ever find.

But according to some observers, it gets worse — much worse. Last year, James Carroll argued that certain disciplines governing the priesthood — in particular mandatory celibacy — fertilize the individual personality for the growth of narcissistic traits. He writes: “immaturity, narcissism, misogyny, incapacity for intimacy, illusions about sexual morality — such all-too-common characteristics of today’s Catholic clergy are directly tied to the inhuman asexuality that is put before them as an ideal.”

Since Carroll actually was a priest — in the Congregation of St. Paul, an order for which I have a very high regard — I have to wonder whether there‘s any truth in what he says. I‘m not taking a position against celibacy, or for that matter, in favor of it. But I am curious to know whether a certain excessive self-regard might be a priestly occupational hazard.

This sort of question is bound to elicit defensive responses, and for good reason: nobody wants to hear, “You’re all a bunch of preening jerks” much less “you’re all a bunch of sex abuse abettors.” Before anyone imagines I’m saying either, let me throw in couple of qualifiers. First, where priests are concerned, imposing any collective sense of guilt is the very last thing I want to do. The mistakes of the institutional Church have much less interest for me than the experience of the individual priest, whom I take on faith to be an essentially good guy who wants only to do right. If any Church norms or practices do, in fact, encourage priests to adopt a narcissistic self-concept, I am assuming they adopt it unwittingly and probably unwillingly.

Second, narcissism happens to the best of us. Every group of professionals with arcane knowledge and its own old-boy network runs a danger of developing a pathologically inflated opinion of itself and the perks it deserves. Surgeons are often said — in particular by nurses — to believe in their own divinity. Where to start with lawyers? My own hands are far from clean here. After I’d worked for just as short time as a loan officer, it felt perfectly natural to think, “Gee, I hope this borrower is stupid enough to let me stack on the points” in almost those very words. When one borrower’s wife went into cardiac arrest, forcing him to cancel his signing, my only thought was, “Why me, O Lord?”

I’ll throw out another bone. I was once photographed between two people suffering from neurofibromatosis. When I saw the picture, all I could think was, “My God, I look awful.”

Third, I’m not asking out of rhetorical mock ignorance. I’m asking out of real ignorance. If it seems improbable that any fully functioning Catholic should know so little about the sacerdotal headspace, bear in mind that I entered the Church right in the middle of a vocations crisis. The priests in my orbit are few, and usually overworked. They don’t have time for much more than an after-Mass handshake, and there’s little to be learned from one of those. I know that Fr. Andrew Greeley and A.W. Richard Sipe have written extensively on the inner realities of the clerical life, but — inexcusably — I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet.

Instead, I go right to the source. To those of my readers who are priests and seminarians, I ask: does that tight collar sometimes make your head swell? If so, have you worked out some routine for getting back to normal? Remember, the Catholic Church is the only place on earth where people thank you for sharing and mean it.

Warning: This is a sensitive subject. There is to be no flamethrowing. Post anything obnoxious, and I will delete it. Protest, and I will ban you.

  • Ann Featsent

    My brother, a priest, and I have talked about this. To boil down at least ONE of his conclusions: As they look out over their congregations, with all eyes on THEM, some priests forget who the mass is about.

  • Anonymous

    I would expect they’re not wholly to blame for that. After all, who has to field complaints about the music, homily, etc.? Who’s called to account if collections drop off?

  • Pearty

    You tell yourself that you’re a coward that couldn’t make it in the real world with mortgages, dead-end jobs and children; that you opted out of life as most people know it and allowed yourself to be spoon fed the necessities because you’re too pathetic to achieve anything more.

  • http://www.facebook.com/haber.ryan Ryan Haber

    Max, I was in seminary for 3 1/2 years. Not nearly the same thing as a priest, but a seminarian is perhaps the only soul that gets more adulation than a priest, because the seminarian, unless he is a real ass, has the added advantage of being innocent. He hasn’t made any decision harder than the best way to explain transubstantiation to second graders. While no mean feat, it is hardly on par with deciding how to handle the in-fighting between the women’s altar guild and the Knights of Columbus, when it comes to making enemies and finding oneself isolated from one’s parishioners.

    I think the isolation of celibacy is compensated for by the only thing, the same thing, that compensates for the bedfellowship of marriage: fraternity.

    A celibate must make friends with brother-priests, and also with laypeople who will not be scandalized by an f-bomb or a belch. A retreat master on retreat at my seminary said that this required both the priest and his lay friend(s) to be very much in pursuit of authentic holiness. Otherwise, one was bound to scandalize the other with his humanity – the only thing that ever causes scandal.

    Marriage is the same way. We take an overly romantic view of marriage if we think that the simple presence of a spouse will wear down one’s ego and create humility ex nihilo. Quite to the contrary, we know, we who have divorced parents. The presence of a spouse can be the most fortifying thing for ego and narcissism, in my experience.

    One must be friends with one’s spouse. One must be, so far as the prior and more important parent-child relationship allows, friends with one’s children. One must be friends with one’s neighbors. This friendship, this fraternity, is what requires and supplies humility.

    In my experience, nothing has ever been so humbling as having a man, a brother, a friend in Christ, sit me down and tell me calmly, soberly, and I knew in my heart without a trace of malice, that I had injured him and that he was aggrieved. Nothing has ever so crushed my ego in such a restorative way. And nothing has ever been stronger in my life than this particular friendship when it was healed by an apology sincerely offered and sincerely accepted.

    It is the loss of friendship among those with whom we are near, that leads us to be able to look down on them. That’s because friendship is the only kind of charity that requires a certain kind of parity, of equality on some level or another. A deep sense of equality and shared humanity is the only remedy to elitist narcissism.

  • Anonymous

    Ah, that’s the stuff! You were one of the people I was hoping most to hear from, Ryan.

    Some of what you say reminds me of the old jokeL “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean everyone’s not out to get you.” You point out that a great deal of a priest’s world may, in fact revolve around him, the things he says, the decisions he make, the gafffes he commits. When I first saw that movie about Archbichbishop Romero, it struck me how everyone was trying to pull him in a different direction. The radical priests want him to do one thing, the military vicar wants him to do the oppposite. A fight between the K of C and the women’s altar guild sounds preferrable to civil war, but not by too much. You’re right –at times like that, a real friend can come very much in handy.

  • Mary

    My former brother-in-law is a priest…some of the things he said after learning of the pending divorce between his brother and I were pretty arrogant and hurtful…I may use the example given in Ryan’s response to craft a conversation with him when next I see him…good article, Max…I hadn’t thought of clerical narcissism as an “occupational hazard”…
    To be fair…three other priests I know have been consistently and totally pastoral in their dealings with the less than ideal individuals and families who fill the pews in my parish and community…
    btw, I like your “warning” :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/haber.ryan Ryan Haber

    I’m flatter, Max, I’m sure. Thank you.

    For me, a hobby horse since the eruption of the scandals has been that this issue isn’t just or even primarily about priests. It is about the Church, by which I mean us. The simple fact is that for some decades, centuries even, we have not exactly been salt and light, by and large.

    The world was a kinder place in many respects when Christian morals held hegemony in men’s hearts, and we will feel that increasingly, I think, as we see the new barbarism advance ever more aggressively. But the simple fact is that we have not done a remarkable job loving our neighbor as ourselves. And now the spectacle of the Church rashly defending itself (bishops against implication in priestly scandal, laypeople against clerical negligence or malfeasance, Church against the world’s contempt, etc.) surely does not give very good example to the world.

    I read an account by a man who, while a boy in the late 1950s, wanted to go on a fishing trip organized by a particular young priest. His father was about to consent and pay the fee when the young priest’s pastor intervened. His father suddenly told the author that he could not go on the trip after all. When the boy protested, his father told him, “Father does bad things to boys. You can’t go.” And that was the end of it. The author was puzzled as a boy about what those bad things could be, and didn’t think of it again until some set of sexual scandals or another. My questions upon reading the article:

    (1) Why didn’t the pastor speak to other boys’ fathers as well?

    (2) Why didn’t the dad speak to other dads, call the pastor to task, or go up to the young priest and demand an accounting, or something? Why didn’t he call the police and keep calling until action was taken, whether by Sergeant O’Hara or by a less Catholic-pious-minded cop?

    (3) How many other people in the pews knew or suspected at least that the young priest was “odd” and never said or did a thing about it?

    The movie Doubt does a VERY excellent job showing how messy and inculpating this mess is – how many people have a hand in it. Without the slightest intention of blaming the victim, one wonders what kind of relationship these children had with their parents that they couldn’t be trusted with the truth? Sure, a priest is in a high-and-mighty position, but how cold must love grow before you call your truth-telling child a liar when he confides in you? I know a man who was groped by his dentist while semi-conscious gas but suffered very emotional fallout because *his father believed him* and dealt with the situation very firmly (I believe it involved bloodying the dentist’s nose for him).

    In short, I guess, before I write a second article longer than your first, it seems to me that – legal justice having been done – the soundest path is a very solid examination of conscience for each of us, for starters.

  • Michael

    Great article! I have often pondered clerical narcissism. I think that narcissism is an occupational hazard in any profession in which the professional is on display, revered, attributed certain virtuous or exemplary qualities, etc.–especially in a culture that values fame. In addition to Catholic priests, narcissistic traits are also found in other denominations’ ministers, politicians, actors and actresses, judges, doctors, etc. I think one of the things that makes it especially dangerous in Catholicism is the history, traditions, mysteries of the Church, heirarchy that supports priests, etc. Not unexpectedly, the Catholic priesthood often attracts narcissists because of the Church’s teachings about the priest being in the person of Christ and a step above the laity. When I am confronted with demonstrably narcissistic priests, it strikes me that it seems their faith is almost irrelevant to their priesthood. It seems that their priesthood is primarily relevant in their lives as a currency of sorts for adulation, authority, being served by “lessers,” and all the other “perks” that come with narcissism. Even though other denominations may also attract narcissists (e.g., Bishop Eddie Long), often they are constrained by the congregationalist nature of those churches. If a minister gets “too big for his britches,” the congregation may not renew his contract or may otherwise fire him. I have known many good priests. To me, the best ones are humble, well aware of their faults and failings, often admiring of their parishioners who have other types of callings, etc. Our pastor, a late vocation, is a somewhat gruff character, but he is always the butt of his own jokes, won’t countenance fawning by parishioners steeped in clericalism, and he generally projects a salty humanity. People like him, not because he is a priest who is paternal and “pious,” but precisely because he is not those things–he is just one of us. Our assistant pastors are the same way. However, the one assistant pastor who was clearly narcissistic and demanded reverence from parishioners was unhappy at our parish. He sought to be reassigned to a different parish, where he was named the pastor, and where he has been followed by “groupies” who believe him to be the oracle of the “true” Church (interpreted as traditional and conservative). He has purchased the most regal and expensive vestments at the new parish (to the tune of thousands of dollars) and has reinstituted a Latin mass, in which–in traditional fashion–he keeps his back to the laity. He built a new church at his parish, one with a “traditional” (meaning pre-Vatican II) altar that separates him from and projects him above the laity. With these types of priests, and those people steeped in clericalism who worship them, it seems that they–the priests–have become the focus of the Church, rather than Jesus Christ. It is sad and disturbing. It seems almost cult-like. Ultimately, I believe that when one is keenly aware of his own humanity and is gifted with humility, he is better able to learn from the greater Church (all of us, including the laity), and is able to empathize with those of us in the pews. In that humility and empathy and communal Church, Christ is truly found and his love and light flourish. It is hard to imagine that Christ is found in the limited and venal confines of a narcissistic priesthood that would elevate the priest to the level of Christ and, concomitantly, reduce Christ to the level of the priest whose ego cannot be sated.

  • Anonymous

    Those are some fascinating thoughts. I would never suggest that everyone with an authoritarian personality is a narcissist, or vice-versa, but there’s certainly room for overlap. Professional military people lead selfless lives of service, but it’s always been clear that a few, paradoxically, carry on fierce love affairs with themselves. The recognizable ones — Douglas MacArthur, Moshe Dayan, Lord Nelson, Charles de Gaulle — were all certified geniuses and, to one degree or another, saviours of their respective countries. (Also, some of them found the military life too confining for their talents and ambitons: De Gaulle and Dayan entered politics, and MacArthur enjoyed rebuilding postwar Japan.) I’m sure for every one of them, there have been hundreds of less able narcissits who succeeded only in making life miserable for their subordinates.

  • Weorc

    There was an old joke about a minister after Sunday services. As people were leaving the church the ministers son, a little boy, goes to the pulpit and speaks into the microphone: “Hey everybody, look at me.” One parishioner turned to another and said “Like father, like son”….
    While putting oneself on display is not unique to being a Catholic priest (even without children), within the Church and within the community there is a sense of deference for clergy, and there is a temptation to think they are more informed, intelligent and ontologically superior then “lay” people. This is supported by traditional piety which is being encouraged by the Vatican, no less than through the proposed new Roman Missal. Unfortunately some priests (young and old) bask in this self-importance. And they develop exclusive fraternal relationships with other priests that perpetuate this. Parishioners come and go, but classmates are forever.

    Getting married brought an end to my formal priesthood ministry, but I noted differences on leaving. Some people were my friends, and some simply wanted to be “the Priest’s” friend. I no longer get “5 dollar handshakes”, someone slipping money into my hands. Rather than playing golf once or twice a week, it’s now once or twice a year. Still, I don’t regret my choice. In some ways I can now be a more authentic Christian.

  • Ann

    My brother is a priest. When he entered the seminary, I had a whole new perspective on Catholic priests from the Apostles right down to the brother I grew up with (and love.) Let’s just say, I am more realistic about who they are. Jesus calls saints-to-be, not Saints.
    Most of the old ladies at church adore these guys. Yes, it can easily go to their heads. I would say it is a job hazard.
    According to my brother, there is a built-in antidote: hearing Confessions. He told me that it is incredibly humbling to hear penitents confess in humility and sorrow the very sins he is also guilty of committing. His unworthiness is before him in the Confessional.
    Also- he has 5 sisters.

  • Ann

    My brother is a priest. When he entered the seminary, I had a whole new perspective on Catholic priests from the Apostles right down to the brother I grew up with (and love.) Let’s just say, I am more realistic about who they are. Jesus calls saints-to-be, not Saints.
    Most of the old ladies at church adore these guys. Yes, it can easily go to their heads. I would say it is a job hazard.
    According to my brother, there is a built-in antidote: hearing Confessions. He told me that it is incredibly humbling to hear penitents confess in humility and sorrow the very sins he is also guilty of committing. His unworthiness is before him in the Confessional.
    Also- he has 5 sisters.

  • Guest

    How does the new proposed Roman Missal encourage “a sense of deference for clergy … and a temptation to think they are more informed, intelligent and ontologically superior than “lay” people”?

  • http://www.facebook.com/haber.ryan Ryan Haber

    Occupational hazard is a good way of putting it, but I cannot stress enough that the hazard is a human one. It certainly crosses party lines (God be merciful upon us for having factions in the Church). Some priests revel in being high on the altar and separate from the Masses; other priests love facing everybody and being the center of a Sunday morning talk show. Good men and women know that the liturgy is not about US, but about God – whether they are sitting in the pews heckling the priest interiorily or whether they are on the altar gazing upon their parishioners. I do not think Latin or altar rails have very much to do with it. Those things have certainly been bonded into some people’s memories and experiences of priests good and bad.

    I noted something to a married friend of mine, who at my age of 34 now has four children while I have none. He was being particularly critical of a priest “who was screwing up my parish,” and it happened to a priest of my personal acquaintance from seminary. I only asked my friend how long he would stand while the priest criticized my friend’s childrearing, having reared no children himself.

    My friend, a humble man, was silent.

  • http://piercework.typepad.com/ Jennifer

    I wonder now–if there wasn’t some wisdom to the traditional form of the priest facing the tabernacle rather than the congregation?

  • Pearty

    Apparently I posted something obnoxious because it got deleted. I think it was taken out of context. Here’s my previous comment, which I will then attempt to qualify:

    “You tell yourself that you’re a coward that couldn’t make it in the real world with mortgages, dead-end jobs and children; that you opted out of life as most people know it and allowed yourself to be spoon fed the necessities because you’re too pathetic to strive for anything more.’

    I recently left the seminary after almost 4 years of training. What I wrote above is a soliloquy I employed when I was tempted to clerical narcissism. Or something like it. It might seem ridiculous to some, but it made me work harder to justify myself in light of what I WASN’T doing.

    If I offended anyone with what I wrote previously, I am sorry.

  • Fr Ronan Kilgannon Erem. Dio.

    I have been a priest for 40 years and I am always a bit mystified when others speak of clericalism. I am not sure what it means. I do not think I have ever encountered it. I have known some arrogant and selfish priests, but then I have encountered these in lay men and women too. I suppose there is something special that members of professions share – e.g. lawyers, medicos, police men and women. But interestingly we do not use the term lawyer-ism, or medico-ism, or constabulary-ism to describe it. In Australia we are ruggedly egalitarian – perhaps too much so. Among the clergy I see very few clerical collars and the use of honorific titles is rare. But there is a good sense of fraternity among the clergy (including permanent deacons) on the rare occasion we get together.

  • Anonymous

    I conceived this piece as an invitation for priests and seminarians (and yes, former seminarians) tospeak openly on uncomfortable issues. I could imagine people form any number of camps arracking priests and the priesthood in malicious and reductive terms: atheists,and Protestants (some of them ex-Catholics) who saw no point in a sacrmental priesthood of any kind; ultra-traditionalist Catholics who would blame everything on Vatican II without providing any plausible causal chain; ulta-progressive Catholics who, in the same facile way, would cast the same blame on JPII. It seemed only right to create a safe space where those who spoke from experience would be free from attack by these clowns.

    In your initial comment, you made a number of sweeping, entirely negative judgments. Since you didn’t bother to explain how you’d arrived at them, yourthey could only have had teh efect of making my bombox a more hostile place than I wanetd it to be in this instance. For that reason, I deleted the comment and posted teh warning.

    What you’ve posted here is much more acceptable. You make it clear that you’ve formed these conclusions throught your own experience, specifically, your experience of yourself. In other words, you’re not pontificating. Keep on posting in this vein, and I predict we’ll get along just dandy.

  • Anonymous

    Fr. Kilgannon:

    Believe me, I’m as confused as you are. I started hearing the word “clericalism” only recently myself. Russell Shaw defines it as a way of thinkingl other observers claim to see it whenever a member of the clergy — usually a bishop — exercises his authority over laypeople without taking their desires and opinions into account. When I hear the word used in this way, I get a little suspicious. It seems to reduce the concept of clericalism to sour grapes — i.e., whenever my bishop does something I don’t like, he’s behaving like a clericalist. Whenever he does something I do like, he’s being a sqwell guy.

    What’s harder to dismiss is the proposition that priestly formation inclulcates people with certain habits of thought that can turn pathological. As we’ve observed, if this were true, priests would be in good company, along with surgeons who think they’re God and stock traders who think they’re above the law. Since I can’t speak with any authority on this point, never having attended a seminary and having caught free priests in unguarded moments, I submit the question to my readers.

    I believe what you say about Australian egalitarianism. It reminds me of stories I’ve eard from the Great War, where Australian soldiers shocked the British out of their puttees by addressing their officers by their given names. Cool, I say.

  • Weorc

    I don’t post much, so thanks for your invitation to speak a little more to this point.

    Here’s an example.

    In the current missal we are accustomed to hearing “When supper was ended, he (Jesus) took the cup.” It sounds straightforward and forceful. The new translation, by comparison, is fanciful and arcane. “He took the precious chalice in his holy and venerable hands…”

    Amongst the flowery adjectives, the Latin word calix has been translated as “chalice,” rather than “cup.” This description conjures an image of Jesus lifting a bejeweled chalice at the Last Supper, just like priests at Mass. (The fatal flaw of the villain in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was in presuming that the Holy Grail used by Jesus was a regal goblet, not the cup used by a humble carpenter of Nazareth.) By association, the priest’s hands are also to be viewed as “holy and venerable”. In pre-Vatican II times the pious faithful were not discouraged from kissing the hands of priests and bishops, since only they were allowed to bless and touch the Eucharistic elements.

    This was the substance of poems like “The Beautiful Hands of the Priest” which were basic for greeting cards at the time,to be sent to priests at Christmas and other occasions.

    …”And the hands that make us pure as angels
    Are the beautiful hands of a priest.”
    … “And the hands of a king on his throne
    Are not equal to them in their greatness”

    Again, I see a throw back to this mentality when recent instruction only allows the priest and deacon to purify the chalice after use at Mass. Lay ministers and sacristan’s are no longer seen as worthy for this task.

  • http://www.withouthavingseen.com Ryan Haber

    Weorc,

    The topic is getting a bit far afield, but since you’ve brought it up, I’ll play the ball for a bit.

    You wrote, “The new translation, by comparison…”

    And that’s just the point. We currently do not have a translation. Did you know that? We have a paraphrasing.

    “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His name, for our good, and the good of all His Church,” we recite in English.

    But that’s not what the Latin original says. The Latin original says “…of all His Holy Church.” The word “sanctae” is omitted from the “translation” that we currently have.

    This isn’t done for literary purposes. I read Latin plain as day and can tell you from my own experience and from a good lexicon that never once does the word “sanctus/a/um” occur in Latin meaning blank/omit/don’t-translate-this-word. It always means *holy* – a holy person, place, thing, or just holy as such.

    And it is entirely omitted. One would be enough, but there are literally dozens – hundreds? – such omissions and rewordings.

    The people of God are ENTITLED BY DIVINE RIGHT to worship God according the liturgy that we have received unbroken and untrammeled from our fathers. The redactors that created the English “translation” that we currently use were not entitled to reword and re-mean the meaning of the Mass.

    It’s that simple.

    Your thought provides another example:

    “Amongst the flowery adjectives, the Latin word calix has been translated as “chalice,” rather than “cup.””

    *Calix* IS the Latin word for “chalice,” and NOT for “cup,” which has other Latin words. The mental images and cultural references don’t matter. The words of the text do. I taught Latin and Spanish and let me tell you, I’d fail ICEL in a flash for their “translation” precisely because they did their darnedest to translate it their “own way,” rather than translating the words they were given to translate. Number one rule of translating: convey the original author’s thought. The number one rule is NOT “use your translation to propagate a particular historical exegesis.” Not at all.

    But back closer to the original topic:

    “Lay ministers and sacristan’s are no longer seen as worthy for this task.”

    It has nothing to do with worthiness. Would you have a priest change your child’s diapers? I sure as heck wouldn’t, and it’s not because he’s unworthy or too good. It’s because IT’S NOT HIS KID. Not his kid, not his job.

    Likewise, the priest is ordained for a purpose. It blows me away how people who want to be involved in liturgical ministries always see it as a matter of worthiness. I am an installed lector, installed by the bishop using a book of the Gospels, during my time at seminary. I don’t exercise my ministry because I firmly believe that ministry and church work is the priest’s role, in the main. Mine is being a damn fine shining example of Christian faith, hope, and charity out there in the real world, and it’s a HECK of a lot harder than reading on Sundays, and a lot less visible and showy, and better for my ego.

    The humblest possible thing is that we each do the role assigned to us by God. If the role is to read publicly to a group of people that your hands are consecrated, then so be it. Get the job done and move along. Whenever I insert my will into the matter, my thoughts and my ideas, I cramp the space and leave less room for God.

  • jkm

    Bombox = fortuitous typo!

  • Henry

    Nice piece with insightful observations. For fifteen years I was called Father by people twice my age. One lady even insisted on kissing my hands when greeting her after mass. When asked why, she said “These hands bring me Jesus”. I was getting dizzy looking down from the pedestal she and the Church had put me on. And I must admit, it did massage my ego.

    During my earlier years after ordination, there was a fair amount of clericalism in my ministry and perhaps narcissism too. I believed I had the answers people needed and that I was part of the infallible world of the Church, particularly when speaking about official teachings. This began to come tumbling down for me when I proclaimed from the pulpit that couples sinned if they used artificial means of birth control. My plan was to inflict guilt Sunday morning and then invite them to a meeting Sunday evening with a Natural Family Planning couple to learn the true and proper way to regulate birth. The result – two couples showed up out of probably a couple of hundred. One of them dropped out after the classes began. I expect many of the other couples who attended mass considered me a pompous ass who as a celibate believed he had all the answers for their family life. If this isn’t clericalism, I don’t know what is.

    Perhaps you are familiar with this statement from Lacordaire, which can be found in priest’s prayer books and taped on mirrors in sacristies:

    “The Priest – To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures. To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none.
    To share all suffering. To penetrate all secrets. To heal all wounds. To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers. To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope. To have a heart of fire for Charity, and a heart of bronze for Chastity. To teach and to pardon, console and bless always. My God, what a life! And it is yours, O priest of Jesus Christ.”

    How can this not breed clericalism and perhaps narcissism too?

    I left the priesthood so I could crawl down off the pedestal and re-enter a world where I was perceived as a human being rather than a celibate priest. http://www.leavingthepriesthood.com attempts to explain why so many priests have left.

  • Henry

    Nice piece with insightful observations. For fifteen years I was called Father by people twice my age. One lady even insisted on kissing my hands when greeting her after mass. When asked why, she said “These hands bring me Jesus”. I was getting dizzy looking down from the pedestal she and the Church had put me on. And I must admit, it did massage my ego.

    During my earlier years after ordination, there was a fair amount of clericalism in my ministry and perhaps narcissism too. I believed I had the answers people needed and that I was part of the infallible world of the Church, particularly when speaking about official teachings. This began to come tumbling down for me when I proclaimed from the pulpit that couples sinned if they used artificial means of birth control. My plan was to inflict guilt Sunday morning and then invite them to a meeting Sunday evening with a Natural Family Planning couple to learn the true and proper way to regulate birth. The result – two couples showed up out of probably a couple of hundred. One of them dropped out after the classes began. I expect many of the other couples who attended mass considered me a pompous ass who as a celibate believed he had all the answers for their family life. If this isn’t clericalism, I don’t know what is.

    Perhaps you are familiar with this statement from Lacordaire, which can be found in priest’s prayer books and taped on mirrors in sacristies:

    “The Priest – To live in the midst of the world without wishing its pleasures. To be a member of each family, yet belonging to none.
    To share all suffering. To penetrate all secrets. To heal all wounds. To go from men to God and offer Him their prayers. To return from God to men to bring pardon and hope. To have a heart of fire for Charity, and a heart of bronze for Chastity. To teach and to pardon, console and bless always. My God, what a life! And it is yours, O priest of Jesus Christ.”

    How can this not breed clericalism and perhaps narcissism too?

    I left the priesthood so I could crawl down off the pedestal and re-enter a world where I was perceived as a human being rather than a celibate priest. http://www.leavingthepriesthood.com attempts to explain why so many priests have left.

  • michele

    I find these articles so fascinating. I’ve been a Catholic my whole life and admit I disagree with some things in the Church. Most importantly the discipline of celibacy and how it is ridiculous. Optional celibacy should be in place. Granted, most priests would continue status quo, but there are those that would like to marry. I agree with whoever stated that celibacy can breed narcissism.
    A priest never has the chance to develop that side of sharing intimately with a woman. He misses out on a very human side of life. Sharing at that level brings him out of that self absorbed state .
    On the other hand, there are many married men/women who are extreme narcissists. What it boils down to – narcissism is a personality problem.


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